If the covid19 crisis mainly places the importance of a quality health civil service in the spotlight, it also allows a glimpse of farming production and distribution channels for the ‘after world’. What French media have noticed for several weeks is a proliferation of initiatives in rural areas aimed at distributing farm products by the means of short circuits. The success of a regional platform launched two weeks ago by the Occitanie Region, which lists local producers and connects them directly to consumers, confirms short distribution channels are on a roll. On the contrary, supermarkets have become objects of consumers’ fear as they avoid exposing themselves to the virus and look for quality products in the vicinity. Would it be the payback of small producers over the big by affirmation of short circuits vending? Short circuits make an opposition to productivist farming and a means for producers to propose a social and ecological agricultural project but primarily economically viable.
For here is the woe of productivist agriculture in which most of French producers are bogged down. An agriculture where over-indebtedness is the rule. An agriculture where the producers are no longer an economic engine of rural areas, they are isolated, and forced into competition with much greater farms against which they cannot compete. As everywhere capitalism applies, our current agriculture policies endangers the most fragile. EU, by the Common Agricultural Policy, does nothing to level out inequalities, and for subsidies depend on the size of farms, small producers cannot compete with big ones. And the capitalist agriculture has a very poor record. In 2019, in France, 605 farmers committed suicide, 57% of them lived on the CMU, a medical welfare for very low-level income. The excess mortality of most fragile farmers shows the impasse of our system that excludes the small to the benefit of the big, and destroys the image of the profession.
In the words of a previous speaker of the French Peasant Confederation, José Bové, “a responsible idea of agriculture development dedicated to the service of all should be developed’. Two models are confronting, the productivist one with disproportionate “one thousand cows farms”, against smaller ones who want to regain power over their production. It is not by chance that bovine producers are the most affected by excess mortality. Small meet producers, indebted, depending on market fluctuations, do not see a future in their profession. Changing to the short distribution channel, small producers regain what had been confiscated by productivism: their autonomy. First of all, a financial autonomy. Reducing the number of intermediaries like wholesalers and retailers allows small producers to fully benefit from the fruits of their work. The producer re-appropriates its production. Moreover, the peasant’s product gains autonomy, it becomes the product of a territory, made by a production mode that gives it a certain prestige and values it. For the consumer, that factor counts, and the product gains quality through proximity. The short circuit, then, becomes a secure distribution mode for the consumers who are still marked by the different sanitary scandals of the past years.
The challenge of tomorrow will then be to provide perennially and durability to short circuits production and distribution in order to sustain this guarantee of quality. If consumer’s demand to buy through short circuits is rising and if this practice has won almost half of the French, an INRA’s survey (National Institute for Agronomic Research), in 2013, showed that 42% of French bought 25 euros worth of short circuit products per week, but, also, this consumption remained the one of a wealthy portion of the population. The tomorrow peasant’s production shall then conquer more economically fragile populations. This will, without doubt, require important efforts from the producers, especially for logistics. It will then pertain to local civil authorities to multiply initiatives that already exist, like short circuit canteens, so as to more and more direct farmers toward this consumption mode and to reach new consumers.
The short distribution channel connects the economic actors on territories that are more and more desertifying. Rural territories are dynamized by these initiatives and the producer becomes the main actor of this dynamism. However, the point is not to revive the old productivist and capitalist reflexes but to make of these rural territories and production areas places of social and cultural exchanges. The short circuit allows the economy, the social and the cultural to be complementary in those rural territories. Dynamism in these territories builds first by employment. This has been said, logistics are often difficult to manage for small producers who already do not count their hours. For deliveries or management of points of sale, money saved on intermediaries allows to hire employees. These employees, e.g. deliver consumers in the countryside and organize initiatives for pickings at the farm. The short circuit frees the producer and get him out of isolation. The location of production becomes a dynamic pole where consumers meet and exchange. However, it is not always possible for small peasants to hire, but they can gather on collective brands of several producers, allowing them to create contacts and weigh in the local economy. Peasant agriculture and short distribution channels put the peasant back at the core of the economy.
Thus, one can see farms with points of sale that also propose social and cultural activities flourishing all over the place. Some of them transform their farm in small farm museums. These initiatives may lend to smile but fulfill an important social and cultural role. Farms are the places of exchange, where agriculture practices are transmitted. Practices that combine tradition and modernity, terroir and new organic agricultural techniques. Examples are numerous and vary according to territories but enlighten the producers’ awareness regarding the economic, social, and cultural role they have to play for an ecological and social transition.
The short distribution channel is then an important tool for the producer, it appeals to the attachment to the region which is highly considered by the consumer. The “eating well” now comes along with the “eating local”. The small producer becomes again a reference agent of farming areas, it recovers its primary mission: producing in order to feed. This is on this new vision of the producer that should be based the territorial collectivity policies. For the battle to get out of the capitalist agricultural model is far from being won, but the short distribution channel is surely a cog of an ecosocialist peasant agriculture.
To develop this vision, the State will ought to bring closer producers and consumers, by raising awareness about local food which is developed in rural towns but still too rare in suburbs or centers of big cities. Partnerships between canteens and producers should continue to develop, to educate all children to local productions. Initiatives are not missing.
Leaving productivist logics is today’s imperative upon farmers. The crisis we are living pushes us to question the tomorrow’s world and solutions for sustainable productions. By its functioning, the short distribution channel makes a mechanism to dynamize farms and territories. But it is also a solution for future ecosocialist planning policies for agriculture. Even if some ecologic challenges can still weigh on this mode of distribution, the ecologic benefit is real. This is on this kind of mechanism that ecosocialist policies should rely so as the green rule could eventually apply.
By Hugo Granger
Translation : Jean-Paul Rubaux and Nina Seron